Narrative Of A Few Created Ground For What Happened On May 9: Sheikh Rasheed Ahmed

In an interview upon return after spending 30 days at an undisclosed location, Ahmed seeks a one-time pardon for all those implicated in the May 9 attacks

Narrative Of A Few Created Ground For What Happened On May 9: Sheikh Rasheed Ahmed

Awami Muslim League (AML) Chief Sheikh Rasheed Ahmed on Friday termed May 9 a black day, noting that a narrative built by a few helped create grounds for the public reaction witnessed on May 9 while his efforts to broker peace between the military and former prime minister and Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf Chairman Imran Khan were foiled by the latter.

He said this in an interview with host Muneeb Farooq on Samaa Television. The interview was recorded on Thursday but was broadcast on Friday evening.

In the nearly hour-long interview, Ahmed was pressed multiple times about the May 9 incident, his continuing support for Imran Khan and the cipher case. 

The mistake that cost Imran Khan

When Farooq asked why Ahmed wanted to give an interview, the AML chief tellingly said that it had become a rite of passage.

He admitted that his party had a solitary seat (in the national assembly) and was amongst the country's smallest political parties. He added that since the first day, he had sided with the military, noting that officers serving in the military form a large part of his constituents since he campaigns in the cantonments. He further said that all the other politicians would ask him where "gate No. 4" [to the military's headquarters]?

"I was with the military before and am with the military today."

Being a key ally of former prime minister and Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) Chairman Imran Khan, under whom Ahmed served as the interior minister, the AML chief volunteered that he always advised Imran Khan to maintain good relations with the military.

On the question that Imran Khan had started attacking military officers in public speeches even before leaving power, Ahmed said that he personally believes that politicians should not single out and name military officers.

"I feel the military is an institution which should not be named," he said.

He continued that one of the biggest gripes of the military over May 9 was that non-political people (officers) were also involved. 

"I honestly believe this country cannot operate without support from the institutions; given our current state of affairs, we don't have the wherewithal for it, the economy is a disaster, the politician and the institutions need to work together," he said.

He added that in a clash between politicians and institutions, it is the institution that always wins.

"I have said this in the past as well, and there is no cause to have a clash with the establishment."

Asked if he advised the PTI on adopting this path, Ahmed confirmed it.

"Someone contacted me and asked me why I did not intervene. I went and sought permission from Imran that if three people are negotiating on your behalf - who then formed their separate parties (Pervaiz Khattak and others), if I can play a role in this because I represent Rawalpindi," he said, explaining that anyone in Rawalpindi usually has a contact with members of the 111 Brigade -- which is responsible for the security of the twin cities -- or with a security agency or within the military's power corridors.

However, Ahmed said that despite twice making the offer, Imran asked him to stay out of it.

He noted that people such as Shahbaz Gill, Shireen Mazari, Hammad Azhar, and Zulfiqar Bukhari were intricately involved.

"These four to five people were quite close to Imran Khan," Ahmed lamented.

Interfering in army affairs

Ahmed said that among the major miscalculations made by Imran was attempting to interfere in the military's affairs and counting on support from within the institution. 

On General Asim Munir's appointment as army chief, Ahmed said that tongues had started to wag long before Gen Munir was promoted as a four-star general, noting that his promotion before that created the possibility that he could be the next army chief.

"Once you get into that top group where all are equally eligible, people start speculating," he explained.

Trouble started when the prospect of General Asim Munir becoming the army chief became quite realistic.

"It is the army's issue, and politicians should stay away from it of who is senior or who will be the chief," Ahmed said without dilating on the issue much.

He said the mistake was that we -- the government led by Imran Khan -- unnecessarily embroiled itself in this issue.

Ahmed said that Imran's friends and well-wishers thought they had a lot of say on the 'inside' (of the military) and had support there, but this was a miscalculation.

May 9 incidents

Ahmed said that he was not even in Pakistan when the May 9 incidents occurred. 

"I was in Kyrgyzstan," he said, adding that he returned to Pakistan the following day and learnt about what had happened. He added that he immediately condemned the incident and repeated the condemnation when people complained they never saw his condemnation. 

"Even if I was in Pakistan, what could I have done?" he asked rhetorically, adding that he condemned the incidents.

Condemning the May 9 incident as one of the darkest days in Pakistan's history, Ahmed suggested that a meeting was held just days before the May 9 incident, adding that Imran Khan is a stubborn politician.

The kind of narrative built by people such as Shahbaz Gill, Shireen Mazari, Zulfiqar Bukhari and others caused a reaction culminating in the May 9 incidents.

Asked whether the May 9 incidents were planned in advance and if he had any idea about it, Ahmed said it was possible. "This was not the result of one day of preparation, and there were non-political people involved," he said.

Cipher case

Since Ahmed was the federal interior minister when the infamous diplomatic cable arrived from Washington, Farooq asked if he believed there was a conspiracy against Imran Khan as the PTI chief had claimed.

Ahmed said that he was part of the cabinet and National Security Council meetings on the subject and had signed the document. He tellingly said that the three people negotiating with the military on behalf of Imran Khan went on to form their own parties and abandoned the PTI chief.

At the time, Ahmed recalled speaking with the Muttahida Qaumi Movement Pakistan (MQM-P) members. Their tone and statements convinced the AML chief that the game was finally over.

PTI long march

Asked whether there were some ulterior motives for PTI's long march last year, Ahmed said that people say a lot of things, but there were a lot of motives which went far beyond just increasing contact with the public.

However, Ahmed desisted from dilating on these.

He added that their problems are so many that they need to come together to solve them.

General pardon

Ahmed said that as he was leaving his religious retreat, he vowed that he would try and secure a one-time general pardon for all those involved in the May 9 incidents from Chief of the Army Staff General Asim Munir.

He said this would be a general pardon for those incarcerated, whether innocent or guilty, adding that people must realise that the military is not their enemy.

"People should realise that this is our military, even though some people acted in their pettiness," he said.

On the non-political people involved, Ahmed said that the military should sort out those who were involved from inside the military per their own mechanism.

Why did Sheikh Rasheed Ahmed stay with Imran Khan?

Asked why he never separated himself from Imran, Ahmed said that he was trying to convince Imran that he should not pick a fight with the establishment. 

On siding with Imran, Ahmed said that he had little option left in politics after he had had a falling out with the deposed prime minister and Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) supremo Nawaz Sharif and the latter refused to allot him a party ticket for elections.

He said that on August 11-12, 2017, Imran came to Ahmed's home, Lal Haveli in Rawalpindi, and on August 13, they held a public rally. 

They decided that two or three seats in Rawalpindi, AML would contest on it. A few days later, Imran called and requested a seat back for former federal health minister Aamer Kiani. Ahmed said that he was content and grateful for that. 

He went on to say that in the upcoming elections, he will only contest from one or a maximum of two seats.

Twitter was the one that cost him a lot, Ahmed said, adding that someone on his staff used to manages his account but he used to approve the gist of the message.

Is the PTI your political opponent?

Asked if the PTI were now his opponents, Ahmed joked that he does not consider anyone his opponent. 

"Why would it be? I have not done anything yet? My politics is of only one seat, even if they take that, so what," he stated.

On Sheikh Rashid Shafique he said that he does politics of his seat and that Shafique is free to decide his future but that he must do so after careful consideration.

Where was Sheikh Rasheed Ahmed, and was he harmed?

Earlier, at the start of the interview, he appeared to be beaming, but he did start off the programme by stating that his weight had 'improved'.

When asked where he had been since his arrest from Islamabad on September 17, Ahmed simply replied he was in a religious retreat reciting and studying the Holy Quran.

Asked that there were reports the government had arrested him, Ahmed did not provide a comprehensive reply about his whereabouts for the past month, stating that headlines keep getting made.

When Farooq asked if the retreat was tough or otherwise, Ahmed confirmed it was tough and that it had had a profound impact on his health.

However, he later clarified that he was not harmed during his retreat and that everyone cooperated with him, providing him water for ablution, etc.

Farooq pushed him that whenever Ahmed usually goes on pilgrimage, he announces it, but this time, he had disappeared quietly. Ahmed said that you can consider it a retreat of silence.

At one point, Ahmed described that he used to get some time at "Tahajjud" (a short period after midnight and before Fajr prayers) to pray.

Ahmed further hinted that he had returned on Wednesday but did not meet his nephew, Sheikh Rashid Shafique, until Thursday (when the interview was recorded, as confirmed by Farooq earlier).